I’ve grown up with you, I’ve bumped in to you on the street, I’ve listened in to your conversations as a stranger, I’ve met you at the park for picnics, I’ve even read the posts on your wall. Do I have your attention? What I’m trying to say is:
Sit down, we need to talk.
Before you think you know what this is about, let me drop a disclaimer: I know what an adverb is, so don’t try to point out that the word stupid in the title should be stupidly. I know that—I’m like, a writer and shit. This is because I have a sense of irony and I want your attention. Also, I’m not stupid, you’re stupid.
Okay, I’m sorry, that crossed the line.
Anyway, lets talk about a certain type of ignorant person. I’ll see if you can guess the kind of person I mean. On the occasion they hear a word they are unfamiliar with, do they:
a) Pretend as if they know it and nod their head
b) Suddenly and irrationally think ill of the speaker
c) feel stupid (and subsequently angry for thinking themselves stupid)
d) all of the above
Language is a beautiful thing, you know, so you should learn to love it. Without it, we literally have nothing, for without the word to be home to an idea, we lose the idea. Confucius said, on the subject of the superior man, that his language is “firm and decided.” Here’s another quote from Confucius for your reading pleasure (pardon the length, it’s just too good):
If names be not correct, language is not in accordance with the truth of things. If language be not in accordance with the truth of things, affairs cannot be carried on to success. When affairs cannot be carried on to success, proprieties and music will not flourish. When proprieties and music do not flourish, punishments will not be properly awarded. When punishments are not properly awarded, the people do not know how to move hand or foot. Therefore a superior man considers it necessary that the names he uses may be spoken appropriately, and also that what he speaks may be carried out appropriately. What the superior man requires, is just that in his words there may be nothing incorrect.
Notice the key ingredient, that language be in accordance with the truth of things. Socrates would also be a supporter of this idea, hence his assertion that objects come into being with their names clinging to them like skin. Big, sesquipedalian words are often what is required when communicating complicated things, simply for the fact that they are big, complicated things.
Lately I’ve been reading a lot of Theodore Dalrymple, whose use of words places him as one of the masters of the English language in my mind. He isn’t difficult to understand, in fact he is clearer to understand than anybody I have ever read, but still—nearly every page I find myself flipping through my dictionary and slobbering over Latin prefixes. The feeling is like a happy frisson, and despite what that word sounds like, it isn’t a type of pastry.
Here is a small snippet of Dalrymple from his book on litter (yes, the man has a book on the philosophy of litter, and it’s great):
These scriveners are themselves both aware and unaware of their own redundancy (the human mind is an instrument of consciousness quite wonderful enough, when the motive is strong enough, to contain within itself propositions that are not only in contradiction to one another, but known to be so, without rejecting either of them.)
This may read like common sense to you or me, but to the individuals out there who are like the ones I described above, this reads across their eyes like sandpaper. Peter Kreeft, Ph.D, a philosopher at Boston College and Kings College in New York, sometimes quotes a depressing conversation he had with a student after a lecture. What the student said was, “Professor Kreeft, see, you live with words. For many of us, words are the enemy.” What a profoundly sad thing to be said by anyone, let alone University student.
These people exist.
To them, language merely points at things for times when they can’t actually point with their own finger. To them, there should be no repercussion for treating the world around them like a text message; in fact, such short-form abuse of the language should be praised, since to them it only matters if the person to which they’ve communicated gets the gist, and there is no inherent truth in language. It’s all LOLs and GTFOs until somebody loses the ability to string a coherent sentence together. Then it’s all WTF’s and anxiety about having to spend an hour conversing with Grandpa.
My advice is if you don’t know the word, learn it. Anything less is bad character.